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Friday, 03 July 2015

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All the world was a stage in West Cumbria for the area’s myriad amateur dramatic societies

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

No brownie points for knowing who penned these words.

But can you remember the next two lines?

Double brownie points if you can!

And if you can’t, they are: “They have their exits and entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.”

And, if you’re interested, the quote comes from As You Like It.

Many West Cumbrians must have had their exits and entrances over the years, judging by the number of amateur dramatic societies which have existed. I have been surprised by just how many I’ve come across while scanning the old papers. Most of them are now just names to me and, I suspect, not many records of their activities are to be found. Unless, of course, you know any different!

Does the local post office have its own drama group? It used to have one – sometime in the 1950s. I know this because I recently came across a scribbled note to this effect in an old notebook – but with no dates, no information – nothing! So, usual query, please get in touch if you know anything about this group.

A group I do have a founding date for is The Young Steelmakers, founded in November 1947. Membership of this group was restricted to young employees of Workington Iron & Steel Company and Distington Engineering Company. The group was, reportedly, created due to the demand of the firm’s younger employees “for the creation of a dramatic society of their own.” That would seem to indicate that a society, run perhaps by an older generation, existed. Anyone know?

Within three months they were performing in public – three short plays. They were guided for this first venture by Percy Chambers, CAH Owen and Sister Short.

They were lucky enough to have the financial support of the Companies’ Social Organisation. I somehow doubt if any of today’s local firms support their own drama group.

One theatre group which had its firm’s backing was the theatre group based at RNAD, Broughton Moor, which put on the Noel Coward play I’ll Leave It To You in February 1949. Again, I have no information about this group.

Over to High Duty Alloys, which had a drama section. They chose as their first plays of the 1957 season a comedy by Muriel and Sidney Box – A Marriage Has Been Disarranged and In A Glass Darkly – a dark and brooding one act play by Muriel Box. The comedy had an all-female cast, including Brenda Mawson, Margaret Atkinson, Frances Stevens, Nora Ryan, Irene Higgins, Brenda Pinquey and Elizabeth McGill. They staged the plays in the works’ canteen. So when did this section first see light of day?

We know that Workington’s Northern Lights Amateur Dramatic Society was founded in 1943, primarily to raise money for war charities. They staged their first play, Hawk Island by Howard Irving Young, in the Princess Hall in that year, after very little rehearsal. The local paper rather coyly stated that the members “comprised mostly of the laboratory staff of a factory.” So, which factory? Was it not named because of wartime restrictions? I know that the society was still in existence in 1948, but when was it wound up? And why?

High Harrington Social Centre Drama Group was active in 1958. When was it formed? I know it was still in existence in the 1970s, but when was it wound up?

In 1931 in Workington, the Our Lady and St Michael’s Amateur Dramatic Society was set up. Their first production was Professor Tim, an Irish comedy by George Shiel. It was well received by the audience. The press review was, I think, a trifle patronising. The reviewer writing that “The diction and enunciation were well defined!” He did redeem himself when he thought that the production “would have reflected credit on a much more experienced society.”

How long did this society last? Did it eventually become the Workington Catholic Drama Group, which flourished in the years after the war?

Over to the Dearham Men’s Fireside Unemployment Club, sometime in the 1930s, which put on dramatic performances. Any information?

I haven’t mentioned the established societies because I am interested in the other bodies which were into drama, many of which will probably never have been recorded anywhere.

They flourished because of the enthusiasm of their members, disproving the assertion by some that West Cumbria was, and is, an area devoid of culture.

Amateur dramatic societies – long may they flourish!

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